How soon will I be able to apply for a no-fault divorce in England and Wales?
After thirty years of campaigning, no-fault divorce is finally on its way. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill passed through parliament in June this year.
Modernisation of the system had been long overdue: the last reforms to divorce law in England and Wales were enacted in 1969! The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will give couples the option to petition jointly for divorce or dissolution, rather than apportioning blame or waiting years to formally end the relationship on the grounds of separation.
Divorces will no longer be able to be contested, but there will be a minimum timeframe of six months from the initial application stage to the granting of the divorce – a ‘cooling off period’ to give couples time to reflect on their decision and to make arrangements involving finances and children.
The introduction of no-fault divorce/dissolution is intended to reduce unnecessary conflict, enabling separating couples and their families to move forward as amicably as possible.
Another small but significant change involves the language used to describe stages of the divorce process: ‘decree nisi’ will be replaced by the term ‘conditional order’ and ‘decree absolute’ will be known as ‘final order’.
The implementation of the Act will take at least a year due to the need to revise rules, procedures and forms. It is currently estimated that the first no-fault divorces will take place in autumn 2021.
Until the Act is implemented, the current laws regarding divorce and dissolution still stand. In both cases, you will need to prove that the relationship has broken down irretrievably. To divorce, you need to state one of five reasons (also called ‘facts’): adultery; unreasonable behaviour; desertion; separation for at least two years (both parties must agree); separation for at least five years (one party can petition even if their spouse disagrees). To dissolve a civil partnership, one of four facts must be given: unreasonable behaviour; desertion; separation for at least two years (both parties must agree); separation for at least five years (one party can petition even if their civil partner disagrees).